AN EXCITING aspect of the opening three weeks of the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships has been the form of the top talents.
The highly touted prospects are playing well and showing why they look like being early selections at this year's draft.
But who's looking like the No.1 pick? Jack Lukosius and Sam Walsh are the clear favourites, but there are some other names who could come into consideration for the club that finishes with the first selection.
Here's AFL.com.au's list of No.1 contenders.
The key forward has been good so far in the championships – he's booted seven goals in two games – without tearing a game apart just yet. His natural forward craft is excellent, he leads up at the ball and moves freely around the ground and is a brilliant set-shot for goal. Can also play in defence.
Recruiter: "The thing with Jack is his ability to lead and lead, and he always seems to find himself in a position to impact the game on such a consistent basis. It probably separates him from a lot of the others. He's a forward but he could play wing or half-back as well I think, he's such a usable player."
Walsh is the most consistent midfielder available: every week he turns up and you know what he's going to offer. He has the running ability, footy smarts and general temperament to be a long-term star. Has been a level above at the championships so far, averaging 28 disposals.
Recruiter: "His ability to get from contest to contest makes him a standout. He uses the ball so well and he's such a trustworthy player. He's had to play a little bit more as an inside midfielder at the championships with Vic Country's lack of depth in that area and he keeps fronting up. It's pleasing he's starting to work on that side of his game."
King kicked the winning goal for Vic Metro last week and has played predominantly as a forward since early in the season. His athleticism, marking and ability to get the ball in the air and at ground level make him a special talent for a player his size. Has shown he can do it at both ends of the ground, too.
Recruiter: "He showed against Western Australia when he kicked five goals that he can dominate in attack and he was named best on ground against North Melbourne's VFL side as a defender. He's a genuine tall who can play in the ruck or at both ends of the ground so a club may look at him very early."
Ben King flies for a mark. Picture: AFL Photos
Some recruiters believe Thomas is the best talent in the draft pool this year. The Tasmanian midfielder/forward dominated the recent under-18 Academy series and has been solid so far for the Allies. He's tall for a ball-winner, is a classy user and can play in a number of roles. North Melbourne is expected to have to use its first pick to secure the Next Generation Academy prospect.
Recruiter: "He might be worthy, but whether a club would ever bid its No.1 pick on a player is the question. They'd lose all the marketability and media that the No.1 draft pick gets. Tarryn might not be No.1 anyway but he'd be very close. He can play in any position, he's super competitive, he's clean and in traffic he has a fantastic step that gives him space and time. His division two form has been better than his division one form so far."
Sydney will need to use its opening draft selection to acquire Blakey, but where will a bid come for him? Some scouts are adamant he belongs in the top-five category. He's 196cm and plays generally as a third tall forward but intends to be a midfielder in time. Has committed to joining the Swans as an Academy player.
Recruiter: "He's been hampered by injury and illness and we probably haven't seen the best of him yet. He's a real talent whose name I'm sure will be thrown around at the top."
Smith's consistency, mix of inside and outside traits, good pace, excellent endurance and tireless work ethic bring him into the conversation with the best midfielders available. And because of that, if a club is at the top of the draft and is desperate for a midfielder, then he will have to be considered.
Recruiter: "It's weight of performance. He's a really competitive kid – he's got such an appetite for the game and the contest. He's an elite athlete who loves to compete. He's probably at the back-end of that No.1 chances group, but he's coming pretty quickly."
Smith in action against WA. Picture: AFL Photos
He has been of action since April after requiring a knee reconstruction, but King won't be out of mind for recruiters with early draft selections. The key forward is arguably the most talented of the group, having booted 8.5 in a commanding TAC Cup game earlier this season for the Sandringham Dragons.
Recruiter: "I think he's in the discussion. It's a call that might be that he's not the No.1, but on talent if you go back to the start of the season he sat quite comfortably in the picture. He's such a high-end talent so has to still be talked about with that pick."
Rankine can light up a game like few others in the draft pool. He doesn't need many disposals to have an impact, which he showed with some brilliant moments in South Australia's opening game of the carnival. Not many players of 180cm get taken as the No.1 pick, but few are as exciting as Rankine.
Recruiter: "His ability to get separation through his athleticism and his footy smarts gives him such high game impact. He's been able to impact senior SANFL footy against SANFL-listed and AFL-listed players, so the fact he's done it at every level he's been challenged at, his talent is going to stack up."
Izak is ranked pretty highly. Picture: AFL Photos